The Church Shall Never Perish

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost

The Church Shall Never Perish

1. Because Jesus gives us power
2. Because Jesus gives us a purpose

Text:  Matthew 16:13-20

Intro

The statistics are scary.  The number of Americans who are Protestant Christians might be as low as 50% these days.  50%!  Of those Americans who claim to be religious (Christians or not), only about 40% attend church on a weekly basis.  40%!  In school that would be an “F” grade.  (In case you were wondering, Florida is below that national average at about 38%.)

Society is becoming less and less Christian.  Prayer is not allowed in schools.  The 10 Commandments have become 10 suggestions.  Rather than being the common bond for most Americans, Christianity is now the common thing to mock and make fun of.

But this is not endemic to America, this is pandemic across the globe.  Religious freedom is currently in danger in Canada.  Massive cathedrals sit empty in Europe.  Christians need to worship in secret in the Middle East, in China, and in many other places.  Even more frightening are the recent statistics about Islam.  The American population of Muslims is supposed to double in the next 20 years.  The world population of Muslims is to reach 2.2 billion and surpass Christianity in the next 20 years.

And all the while, as Christianity shrinks and sputters, sin and Satan seem to be soaring supreme.  How can you listen to the radio without hearing a bad word or gossip these days?  How can you watch TV or a movie without the temptation of lust creeping into your mind?  How can you live in America and not be overcome with greed and envy?

Are we a dying breed?  Is Christianity on its last leg?  Will the number of Christians shrink and shrink until there are none left?  Is Christ’s Church doomed?  No!  As bad as things may look, as lonely and persecuted as we might feel, Jesus promises:  The Church Shall Never Perish.

I.              

By this time Jesus had performed a lot of miracles.  After two years of ministry, people all across Israel had seen him heal people, cast out demons, multiply loaves and fish, raise the dead, and much more.  But after all this proof of who he really was, most people either didn’t get it or didn’t believe it.

So when Jesus had a moment to do some extra teaching with his disciples, he asked them:  Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  Some people thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead after he was beheaded.  Others thought Jesus was the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy and was a second Elijah.  Others weren’t really sure and thought maybe he was like Jeremiah, or at least some sort of great prophet.

But Jesus knew what other people thought of him.  His point was his next question for the disciples:  But what about you?” he asked.  “Who do you say I am?”  Here was a chance for the disciples to tell whether they had actually learned anything over the last two years.  And before anyone else could chime in, Peter burst out, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

What an amazing confession of faith!  It was the perfect answer!  Jesus is the Christ.  Christ means anointed one or chosen one.  Peter was confessing that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah who was chosen by God to save the world.  And, Peter said the he is the Son of the living God, meaning that Jesus isn’t just human but he is at the same time God himself.  You can’t ask for a better or more succinct answer!  Peter passed the test (this time at least).  He confessed that Jesus is the promised Savior who is true man and true God.  Absolutely!

Do you think we would be so quick to burst out with such an answer?  What might we say if we were asked the same question?  Who do you say that Jesus is?  I imagine that depending on our mood or how things are going in life, that answer might vary a lot.  “Well Jesus is the one who saved me, but he hasn’t been helping me out a lot lately.”  “Jesus is the Savior, but I have other things that are a little more important on my plate right now.”  “Jesus is God, but I’m not so sure he’s been listening to any of my prayers.”  “Jesus is God, but he must be hiding his power because it doesn’t look like he’s in control anymore.”

Maybe at times we are caught up in the busyness of our lives and schedules.  Maybe at times we are more focused on other things.  Maybe at times we doubt his power in our lives.  Maybe at times we doubt his power in the world.  But we do lose focus on who Jesus really is and what he really came to do.

Jesus is the Christ!  He is the long-promised Savior.  He is the one who came to live in perfection in the place of people who live in sin.  He is the one who came to suffer death and hell for people covered in sin.  He is the one who came to defeat Satan and death and grant forgiveness and new life.  Jesus is the Christ who saved us from our sins and gives us everlasting life!

Jesus is also the Son of the living God.  God is not dead.  God is living, just as he always has been and always will be.  And Jesus is God, too.  All of those miracles he performed—healing, casting out demons, walking on water—they were evidence of his deity.  But there is no greater proof of his power and divine nature than the empty tomb.  No one has ever avoided sin.  Jesus did.  No one has ever escaped death alone.  Jesus did.  No one has ever defeated Satan.  Jesus did.

You see Jesus has all power over heaven and earth as the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Peter believed that and confessed that, and Jesus commended him for it:  Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”  How blessed Peter was, and how blessed we are, when our heavenly Father reveals to us who Jesus truly is!

Jesus continued in verse 18, And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  It was a bit of a play on words.  Peter’s name means rock, and Jesus used the word rock, or bedrock, in the same sentence.  However, some people have become quite confused by this verse.  There are many who think that Jesus is talking about Peter in part two:  “You are Peter and on you I will build my church.”  These people would then go on to assume that Peter was here named by Jesus to be the first leader of the church in a long succession of church leaders, sometimes called popes.

But that actually isn’t correct.  Jesus is saying, “You are Peter—the ‘rock,’ and on this rock-solid confession of faith I will build my church.”  The solid foundation of the Church is not Peter—it’s the confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God!

And so we may wonder if God is really in control today.  We may see all of God’s enemies rising against us.  We may see sin everywhere.  But as long as there are people who confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus says, The gates of Hades will not overcome [my church].”  We need not fear today!  We have Jesus’ promise:  The Church Shall Never Perish because Jesus gives his power as the Christ and as true God to us!

II.

Now that we know who Jesus is, that doesn’t mean it’s the greatest secret of all time that we will keep.  Christianity is not a secret society where you have to know the handshake or the password so you can get it in.  Certainly not!  Knowing that Jesus is the Christ means that we have important work to do sharing that message!  And Jesus gives us a special privilege as we do that work.

Look at what Jesus told Peter in verse 19, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  What’s the deal with this binding key and loosing key?  Jesus explains it a little more clearly elsewhere.  He said almost the exact same thing to his disciples after he rose from the dead.  Here’s what he said then:  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you . . . If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Here’s what the keys of the kingdom of heaven are:  If someone’s sins are forgiven, they are loosed, and the door to heaven is unlocked and opened.  If someone’s sins are not forgiven, they are bound, and the door to heaven is closed and locked.  And this is the most unique part of this verse—Jesus is giving the keys to heaven to you.  Not to Peter, but to you and to me and to every Christian.  You have the privilege and the power and the purpose of opening and closing the door to heaven.

How would you do this?  Perhaps you have a friend or family member who is living in sin.  Maybe this person is constantly committing adultery, refuses to go to church, is addicted to a substance, or just plain denies belief in Jesus.  There are many other examples.  So you talk to this person.  You tell them that this is wrong, this is not what God wants, and this is sin—it’s dangerous.  But the person will not listen.  Maybe you warn another time or two, even taking someone else with you.  But nothing.  Finally you tell this person that this sin leads to hell, and that is where they will be forever if they don’t turn from sin and turn to Jesus.  You have just bound that person and locked the door to heaven.  You have used a key to the kingdom of heaven.

Let’s say there is another person.  You talk to this person about sin as well.  But this person responds differently.  This person repents, is sorry, and turns from that sin.  This person wants forgiveness and recognizes that only Jesus can offer it.  So you tell that person, “You are forgiven.  I forgive you.  More importantly, Jesus forgives you.”  You have just loosed that person of sin and unlocked and opened the door to heaven.  You have used a key to the kingdom of heaven.  (And by the way, if you lock the door on someone, if they repent and turn back to Jesus, you can unlock it later!)

What a privilege from Jesus to have and use the keys to the kingdom of heaven!  Think of all the times you have used them, perhaps without thinking about it.  You point out sin to your child, or to your spouse, they say they are sorry, and you properly say, “I forgive you.”  A friend wrongs you and hurts you and later they repent and you properly say, “I forgive you.”  Our teachers do it on a daily basis.  They teach our students to say both, “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you” to each other.

You even hear it every single Sunday, as you did today.  We confessed our sins together today and then I turned around and said to you, “God our heavenly Father has been merciful to us and has given his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Therefore as a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins.”  I was using a key to the kingdom of heaven.  When we forgive one another, when we preach the Word of God to one another—both law and gospel—it is just as if Jesus himself is speaking.

We may wonder if God is really in control today.  We may see all of God’s enemies rising against us.  We may see sin everywhere.  But we have Jesus’ promise that The Church Shall Never Perish because Jesus has given us a purpose.  Jesus has commissioned us to talk about sin and forgiveness with people all over the world.

Conclusion      

This world is a little scary today.  The statistics are scary, too.  It might seem like Christianity is dying out and fading until it completely disappears.  But it’s not.  And it won’t.  Not now.  Not ever.  We have Jesus’ promise that we will overcome the gates of hades.  Satan and all his forces of evil, with all of his power, and with all of his sin and temptation cannot defeat us, because Jesus has already defeated them.  We have Jesus’ power on our side.  We have Jesus’ purpose to go and spread the good news to all.  So we can be confident:  The Church Shall Never Perish.  We have won!  We will win!

AMEN

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Posted on September 18, 2011, in Church, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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